Where are you from?
Can you draw it?
It’s always there in the recesses of our minds, our childhood home and all that came with it. It has irrevocably influenced us, but nowadays it’s almost intangible.
What if we could re-trace our memories, render them material again, and see what’s been obscured as we’ve grown?
Wouldn’t it be fascinating for others if they were able to view our memories?
26er Neil Baker used these questions as stimulus for his latest creative project: 26 Memory Maps, which he showcased at Bloomsbury Festival alongside BBC4’s Alan Dein, as part of Wordstock Deconstructed.
For this project, 26ers had to think about where they grew up; draw, paint or create a collage of their map from memory; and then write a 150-word memoir about it.
Here’s what Alan Dein had to say about the results:
‘These Memory Maps are like a window into people’s imaginations. They allow me to get to know people, even if it’s only very slightly. I can glimpse into their childhood worlds and get a sense of those they knew and loved….and the great thing about maps is they give you a way to structure your memory,’ Alan told us.
During the event, Alan invited the creators of his favourite Memory Maps up on stage for a discussion, and the results were amazing.
Of particular note was Nick Parker’s map, which was the perfect demonstration of how memory often manipulates space, time and reality in any way that it sees fit.
His map of Wednesbury was a sequential cartoon, influenced by comics like the Beano (which he read as a child), and suffused with sulphurous yellows and greys. Comics, and yellowish-grey afternoons, had become the reality of his past. Here’s Nick Parker’s memory map:
Not a map of Wednesbury (for dad)
So Mum died suddenly, and ‘Mr Alzheimer’s’ screws with your memories: fractures them, erases bits, then re-shuffles them and deals them out again. So when you tell your tales of growing up and ‘courting’, none of us really know what’s what.
But then ‘your’ Wednesbury always did seem cartoonishly unreal – mixed up in my head somehow with old Beano’s and flea-market war comics. A place of air-raids and factories, smoke and churches, yellow light and fire and brick and stone. And the georgraphy never quite made sense – everything always seemed to be on a hill, or at the ‘top of the town’, or else ’round the corner’. (My own Wednesbury is flat and grey and empty, it’s concrete car parks and trips to Kwik Save and everything being too far apart.
Sorry dad. This is a hardly-map a n uncertain territory. But it’s all we’ve got now, and it’s precious.
As the event progressed, it became clear that the process of making a Memory Map lead the participants to experience physical and emotional sensations they had forgotten. Emma Keens, in particular, noticed that creating her map ‘really brought back the sounds and smells’ of her past. Forget Madeleines, in this case creativity was the key to unlocking some of what had been obscured with time.
Jill Hopper’s map was particularly fascinating. She interpreted the brief slightly differently, and decided she would act as an intermediary, and create a map on behalf of her friend who had been blind since childhood.
‘I wanted to be a conduit for her story and try to capture what a Memory Map would look like to someone who couldn’t see. So we sat down together, opened a bottle of wine, and I tried to draw what she described. It was a real privilege,’ she told us.
Jill’s map was a constructed through the sounds, tastes, feelings and smells of the boarding school her friend lived in during the 70s. Instead of sight illuminating and giving definition to the space, it was the other senses which carved a map into the darkness – and Jill wanted to convey this visually. The results were beautiful.
These are just a small number of the wonderful submissions we received, and you can take a look at some of the other maps here.
26 would like to thank Neil for making such a successful, interesting project. Neil also encourages anyone who is curious to give making a Memory Map a go. Who knows what you might uncover?
We’d also like to say a big thank you to Alan Dein for hosting our event, gracing us with his smooth-like-caramel radio voice, and supporting the project wholeheartedly. Thanks also to everyone who participated. You helped us create something special.
If you’re hungry for more of Wordstock Deconstructed, we have a brilliant event coming up on the 28th November, which will give you all the know-how you need to get your work published.
By Matthew Aldridge
Take a look at the 26 Memory Maps website.